Top 10 cookbooks of 2013
You don't think you could use one more recipe ... and then you are enraptured by a whole slew of them. That's the mark of a good cookbook. Here are favorites from this year's crop. --ERICA MARCUS, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the everyday, workhorse category, we were impressed by "Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen" (Rodale, $26.99). Kathy Brennan and Caroline Campion are both professional food writers and former editors at Saveur magazine. They are also busy working moms with limited budgets, and they convey a tremendous quantity of hard-won knowledge in this approachable book. The 130 recipes are simple and appealing, but don't skip over the authors' sage advice on planning, shopping and organizing and cooking tips sprinkled throughout.
Not so serious about baking? If all you're looking for is a collection of dependable recipes for delicious cakes, consider "Martha Stewart's Cakes: Our First-Ever Book of Bundts, Loaves, Layers, Coffee Cakes, and More" by Editors of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, $24.99). Each of the nearly 150 recipes here fits on one page and is photographed in full color. Plus appendixes on equipment, techniques and sources.
If you are serious about becoming a serious baker in 2014, consider "The Art of French Pastry" by Jacquy Pfeiffer and Martha Rose Shulman (Knopf, $40). In it, the Alsatian-born co-founder of Chicago's French Pastry School provides a master class in the fundamentals of patisserie, and recipes for scores of its glories, from croissants and brioche to éclairs and bûches de Noël. Pfieffer is an endearing, encouraging teacher. "I will give you the proper information and tools to allow you to understand how to execute a given recipe," he writes, "but your contribution -- the patience and persistence to work at it -- is just as important." Exceedingly well organized and illustrated with color photographs and diagrams.
Ever wonder what to do with your beet greens? Your radish tops? In "Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable" (Ten Speed Press, $22), Tara Duggan shows you "how to waste less, discover new depths of flavor, and save a little money by thinking differently about the produce you buy or grow." The 65 recipes feature not only the showiest bits but also the turnip tops, potato skins, leek greens, celery leaves, chard stems, asparagus stalks, fennel fronds, corn cobs, pea pods -- not to mention apple peels, squash seeds and watermelon rinds.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes himself as "that notorious carnivore," but, in truth, this British avatar of nose-to-tail eating has always been a passionate advocate not only for eating every part of the animal but for eating less meat overall. In "River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes" (Ten Speed Press, $35), the recipes come from all over the world but share the same gutsy, forthright clarity that characterizes the author's winning voice.
Vegetables came into their own in 2013. Farmers markets and produce-delivery services flourished, and Meatless Monday expanded. And Deborah Madison, the poet-laureate of American vegetarians, bowled me over with her magisterial "Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom, With Over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes" (Ten Speed Press, $40). Taking a plant's-eye view of the culinary landscape, Madison groups her vegetables by botanical family and finds unexpected harmonies between such cousins as carrots and coriander. Informative and inspiring for any cook, but essential for anyone who is both cook and gardener.
"Cooking Slow: Recipes for Slowing Down and Cooking More" (Chronicle, $35) is an innovative book about one of the most primitive approaches to cooking. In it, Andrew Schloss makes a compelling case: "Lower the heat," he writes, and "time stretches. Tough fibers soften. Beautifully complex flavors emerge. Aromas billow, and all you have to do is slow down and relax." There are dozens of recipes here for slow-roasted, slow-simmered and slow-grilled meats, but also for molten cauliflower, one-pot macaroni and cheese, steamed eggs and overnight lemon cheesecake.
Cookbooks organized by menus can often seem oppressive. Unless company's coming, one proper "recipe" plus a salad is about all most of us can handle. In One Good Dish, the Pleasures of a Simple Meal" (Artisan, $25.95), David Tanis focuses his attention on 100 recipes, virtually all of which I want to cook right now: spaghetti with bread crumbs and pepper, ham and Gruyere bread pudding, cornmeal popovers, cold Chinese chicken, Tunisian meatballs, fragrant scallop cakes, wok-fried lamb with cumin, sweet-and-salty nut brittle. See?
We usually steer clear of lavish, glossy restaurant cookbooks, but this year two volumes made us relax our rule. Both Gramercy Tavern and Daniel are among the most beloved of Manhattan restaurants, the former the apogee of casually elegant New American dining, the latter a bastion of elegant Francophile cuisine. "The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, $50) is authored by executive chef Michael Anthony with a history of the restaurant written by its owner, Danny Meyer. Along with passages on wine, beer, suppliers, service and techniques, the book provides a fascinating portrait of a much-copied-but-never-equaled New York institution.
"Daniel: My French Cuisine" by Daniel Boulud and Sylvie Bigar (Grand Central Life & Style, $60) is divided into three parts. You probably won't cook from "Recipes from the Restaurant Daniel," though you might attempt some of the traditional French recipes in "Daniel at Home." But it's Part 2, "Iconic Sessions," that sold me on this book. For reasons that remain obscure, Bill Buford, a member of both the literati and the glutterati, orchestrated an 18-day kitchen marathon in which he, Boulud and a team of cooks produced more than "a dozen elaborate, technically flamboyant, and historically evocative French dishes" such as jambon au foin (ham baked in hay). The photographs are glorious. There are no recipes.